The easily overlooked ABC ferries

Lady of Lismore, pictured shortly before her launch at Pembroke Dock last November. She now provides an upgraded turn-up-and-go service between Port Appin and the north end of Lismore. Many tourists use this route to explore one of the west coast’s less popularised islands

There are four year-round ferry services owned and operated by Argyll & Bute Council — the ABC ferries. John M. Beveridge introduces these craft, all within easy reach of Oban, and says each offers a short sail that is well worth the diversion. While not on the scale of their CalMac counterparts (or the original 1953-54 ABC’ side-loading car ferries on the Clyde), they provide links for island communities that are just as essential.

Lady of Lismore

Lady of Lismore on trials off the Welsh coast before her 300-mile delivery voyage to Lochaber in March this year

This 12-metre ferry, the newest on Scotland’s west coast, provides the passenger-only service between Port Appin and The Point at the north end of the island of Lismore. It is an hourly turn-up-and-go service, costing £4.60 return. The crossing takes 10 minutes.

Lady of Lismore was built by Mainstay Marine Solutions Ltd of Pembroke Dock in Wales at a cost of £500,000. Launched last November, she undertook her 300-mile delivery voyage in late March and entered service soon afterwards. 

Lady of Lismore can carry carry 23 passengers with two crew. The name was chosen after a poll conducted by Lismore Community Council.

She replaces The Lismore, a smaller ferry which maintained the run for more than three decades.

A survey conducted in 2007 revealed the route carried over 40,000 passengers a year, compared to 14,000 on CaMac’s Oban-Lismore route.


Belnahua plies between the island of Seil at Cuan, and the island of Luing. She is named after one of the Slate Islands off the west coast of Luing in the Firth of Lorn.

Belnahua arrives at Luing on 23 September 2021. Click on image to enlarge

Built by the Campbeltown Shipyard as Yard No. 10, she was launched in July 1972. At 35 gross tons, she can carry up to six cars (at a very tight squeeze) and 40 passengers.

The passage through the fast-flowing Cuan Sound takes five minutes and at 285 metres is the shortest car ferry crossing in Scotland.

Belnahua loads with a three-piece ramp on the port aft end and the same at the starboard forward end. Vehicles drive on at the Cuan side via the stern ramps and drive off at the Luing side from the bow ramps. At Luing, vehicles drive onto the bow ramps, but when approaching Cuan the ferry turns 180 degrees and berths stern-to so vehicles can drive straight off.

Passenger accommodation is basic, situated on the starboard side aft of the single-occupancy wheelhouse.

Luing has a population of around 200 but there is high demand for the ferry, which normally is timetabled every 30 minutes. In practice the ferry provides a shuttle service. Current fares are £2.40 passenger return, and £9.40 car return. The timetable can be found here.

There has been talk since 2004 of building a bridge, and more recently about a replacement ferry. Neither has progressed beyond the discussion stage.

Although Belnahua is currently celebrating her 50th anniversary, she is not the oldest car ferry in Scotland. That honour goes to the Cromarty Firth ferry Rosehaugh (1967), closely followed by Glenachulish at Kyle Rhea (1969).

Easdale approaching Ellenabeich on the island of Seil, south of Oban


This is a wooden passenger-only craft with an outboard motor.

Easdale departs from the harbour at Ellenabeich on the island of Seil and provides a service to the island of Easdale.

A half hourly timetable is operated, but Easdale can be called ‘on demand’ by pressing buttons in the waiting shed.

These illuminate a light and sound a klaxon.

The crossing takes three minutes and costs £2.50 return for adults, £1.40 for children.

For further information contact, or phone 01631 569167 or 01546 604578 (timetable enquiries: 01852 300794)

Eilean Dhiura

The best known of the ABC ferries provides the link between Port Askaig on Islay and Feolin on Jura, traversing the treacherous Sound of Islay.

Eilean Dhiura sets off from Port Askaig for her five-minute voyage to Feolin on Jura, across the tidal stream of the Sound of Islay

Eilean Dhiura was built to replace Western Ferries’ Sound of Gigha, which served on the route from 1966 until 1998. She bears many similarities to her predecessor, each being of landing craft style. Eilean Dhiura is 25 metres and 86 gross tons, whereas Sound of Gigha was 24 metres and 65 tons.

The main difference is that Sound of Gigha only had a bow ramp, meaning vehicles had either to drive on and reverse off, or vice versa. Eilean Dhiura has bow and stern ramps, making the handling of vehicles easier and safer. Her wheelhouse is offset on the port side aft.

Built in 1998 by McTay Marine in Bromborough on the River Mersey, Eilean Dhiura can carry up to 10 cars. The crossing takes five minutes to cover the 700 metres. Passengers are charged £4.20 return while cars cost £18.90 return. 

These four vessels, three of them now quite old, serve their communities well, especially when you consider the wild waters and tidal races in which they ply in all kinds of weather.

Argyle and Bute Council has a web page dedicated to its ferry services:

Lady of Lismore (left) is a bigger, more commodious and up-to-date version of her long-serving predecessor The Lismore (right)

The jetty at the north end of Lismore, known as The Point. It is seen here with The Lismore, the now displaced ferry admired for her long service and wood-panelled cabin with sparred seating

Car deck on the 50-year old Cuan Sound ferry Belnahua, showing the “S” arrangement enabling up to six cars to be accommodated between the stern ramp and the bow. Click on the image to enlarge

Outward bound to Feolin on Eilean Dhiura, with Finlaggan at Port Askaig in the background

Eilean Dhiura returning from Jura to Port Askaig: the crossing demands expert seamanship in the strong tidal flows of the Sound of Islay

Lively passage: deck view on Eilean Dhiura, showing the Paps of Jura

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Published on 30 May 2022